Quince is one of the most popular Greek spoon sweets. It is served as a dessert topping for yogurt in taverns all around the country. Tourists love it, though unfortunately most restaurants use cheap commercial preserves.
By cooking down the cores and seeds that contain most of the pectin, and adding their rich broth to the sweet, we can make our own quince preserves with less sugar and more fruity flavor and aroma. I prefer to fill small jars—once opened, the contents are difficult to resist. At least with small jars you might pause before breaking the seal, but then again you might not! By adding spices, I turn some of the spoon sweet into an unusual relish (see Variation).
Makes 3 1/2 pints (1.5 L) or 6 one-cup (250 ml) jars (see Note)
4 medium-large quinces (about 3 pounds / 1.4 kg)
1 lemon, quartered, plus 1/4 cup (60 ml) lemon juice
4 1/2 to 6 cups (900 g to 1.2 kg) sugar
1/2 cup (120 ml) honey
4 rose geranium leaves (see Note)
1 cup (125 g) blanched almonds
Wash and dry the quinces. In a medium bowl, add 1 quart (960 ml) water and squeeze the lemon quarters into the water, tossing in the squeezed lemon pieces.
Using a large knife and working on a sturdy cutting board, halve one quince crosswise, through the equator. Place one piece on the board, cut side down, and quarter it, then using a good paring knife, remove the core and seeds from each piece. Drop the cleaned pieces into the lemony water. Place the cores into a saucepan and continue preparing the rest of the quinces the same way.
When all the fruit quarters are cleaned, add enough water (about 4 cups / 960 ml) to cover the cores. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally. Add more water as needed to prevent burning while you finish cutting the quince.
Slice and cut each quince piece into batonnets (matchsticks) about 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick or less—but not too thin. If you have a good mandolin cutter and a steel glove to protect your hand, you can cut thick quince juliennes quickly. I often cut the quince in somewhat irregular small, longuish, thin pieces.
Drop the cut pieces back into the lemony water while you are cutting the rest.
Drain the quince pieces, transfer to a pot, and add 4 1/2 cups (900 g) sugar. Discard the lemon peels and pass the water through a fine sieve. Measure 3 cups (720 ml), reserving the rest, and add it to the pot with the cut quince. Bring slowly to a boil over medium-high heat.
Drain the cores and peels through a fine sieve and collect their juices, pressing hard to drain. You should have about 1 cup (240 ml). If it is less, fill the cup with the reserved lemony water. Add to the pot, discarding the solids.
Place two saucers in the freezer. Bring the quince to a boil and skim. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring often, for 20 minutes, or until the quince is almost cooked—the precise time depends on the size of the pieces. Add the honey, lemon juice, rose geranium leaves, and almonds. Increase the heat and cook for another 5 to10 minutes. Taste and add more sugar, if you like. Cook for 1 minute over high heat, until the syrup thickens.
When it begins to look syrupy, take one of the saucers from the freezer and drop 1/2 teaspoon syrup on the cold saucer. As it cools, push it with your finger. If it wrinkles, it is done. If not, continue cooking, stirring a few minutes more, then repeat the test with the second saucer.
If the quince is soft but the syrup is still watery, use a slotted spoon to remove the fruit to a bowl, cook the syrup down to thicken, testing, as described above, then add the fruit back in. Bring to a boil, stir, and after 2 minutes transfer the quince preserves to sterilized jars (see Note 2), filling almost to the top. Close the lids, and let cool and seal—you will hear a pop.
Store the jars in a cool, dark place and they will keep for at least 1 year. Refrigerate after opening.
- If you don’t have rose geranium, I suggest you don’t add anything else—like cinnamon stick, as some people do. I prefer the pure, unadulterated quince aroma, which is hardly tainted by the delicate rose geranium.
- Place the jars (not the lids) on an oven rack and heat to 180º F (80º C) for about 20 minutes. Fill with the preserves while the jars are still hot.
Spicy Quince Preserves
Spicy quince preserves make an excellent topping for yogurt and for creamy, soft cheeses, both sweet and spicy. Adding 1 to 2 teaspoons fresh lemon or cider vinegar makes a great relish for roast chicken and turkey.
In a small skillet, slowly heat 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) quince preserves, adding 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger, 1 teaspoon ground allspice, and a small pinch of cayenne pepper. Do not let the mixture boil, just heat through so that the flavors and aromas mix. Transfer to a jar or bowl, let cool, cover, and refrigerate. Use within 1 month.